Add option 'Freeze account'

It seems worth to add an option which would allow a user to make his/her account no more accessible from his/her own side. This would be useful if the user is for some reason going to cease his/her iNaturalist activity and to no more operate and control the account, to ensure the content not to be deleted through some unauthorized access like hacking etc. Of course, it is implied that the account remains to be accessible by the iNaturalist team and the observations remain available for identifying and commenting, as usual. Just a means to prevent content deletion in future from some third party. We have an option to delete and account, that implies deletion of all the content therein. Why not to have an option just to leave the content there in iNaturalist and no more concern it (especially if an open license is chosen)? .
(In case if later, in spite of such a firm solution, the user decides to proceed with activity, the account could be unfrozen via communication with the supporting team, or a new account could be started.)

I might be misunderstanding, but if someone was attempting to delete someone’s observations and had access to their iNat account, couldn’t they just reach out to staff pretending they’re that user, maybe even already having access to the user’s email account?

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I’m not sure exactly how this would work, but I can think of one situation in which something like this might be useful. We had a situation in an outreach project where a teacher was running a classroom account for underage students, so she had logged in on their devices. One of the students got angry for some reason and decided to vandalize the class account by deleting it and wiping out hundreds of observations.

The teacher was very upset of course. In the end, they emailed me, I contacted staff, and they were very kindly able to restore the account (though I am sure this was a big hassle). I’m going to guess this is a pretty rare occurrence. However, group accounts or project accounts may not be (?), so I guess maybe an option like this could be useful in that type of scenario where there is an account for a specific project/time period that definitely won’t be used anymore.

But not sure if that’s a major priority or not. Though I guess that another way to address this specific problem could be to require reentry of the acct password if someone wants to delete their account.

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@bouteloua, a good point indeed, thank you. Of course, in such most rare situation if such user would like to start his/her ‘new life with iNaturalist’, starting a new account would not be a problem, I think.

I think this is a somewhat different use case. Freezing such an account in the way being requested would stop both teacher and students from using the account in any way.

Would the solution here be as simple as the user changing their password to a randomly generated, long and complex password that they could not remember, and choose not to write down?

And then if they change their mind in the future (and can prove ownership), staff could just reset the password?

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I thought about this of course. As you wrote, the password can easily be reset if there is access to the user’s E-mail. which could be hacked or somehow misused. I suppose that E-mail address would be more readily a target of some misuse than an iNatuiralist account itself. (Correspondence with the stuff, as I mentioned, was also not the best idea but it could be sensful and sound reasons may be menttioned). So deliberate freezing could be a more straight-forward solution.

When suggesting a feature I also thought about a user’s death and what would happen with his account, addresses etc. This problem is not yet too acute since the inernet itself is rather young; and it is being solved (perhaps differently in different countries) but many people still have no idea how. This subject has too much legal issues involved, as discussed earlier, to be specially concerned in the iNaturalist options. But a forthcoming cessation of a user’s activity may have any reason and he/she may like to have simple tools to ensure the content would not be deleted ‘from this side’.

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That’s the catch; doing so is legally very difficult. Doing so “casually” eg through email alone isn’t especially secure. Either you have to find an intermediate solution, accept a flawed reversibility mechanism or accept this will be a one-way process.

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I agree that it is slightly different, but I think it the function of locking/freezing an account in some way could still be valuable. If the project is over, the teacher might just want to put that account to bed or mothball it and prevent any students from using it in the future (so the teacher doesn’t have to monitor it).

I presume that the teacher going in and changing the account password would then log out any other devices logged into the account and require them to enter the new password to gain access but not 100% sure.

The long, random password solution would probably work in this situation (teacher account), but a lot of people, esp. less tech-savvy folks, might not think of it. So if it is an issue that comes up occasionally, it could be worth mentioning a best practice in this situation in some of the documentation, even if there is no official “freeze” or shutdown option.

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One other potential benefit to some kind of option like this is that it could show up on the user’s account page. If there are IDers working on the account’s ID, they would then know that they aren’t going to get a response from the account holder. Like they could know the original observer won’t response to update IDs or requests for additional info, etc. Again, I doubt this would affect many users now, but it is an interesting thing to think about for the future as the site gets older and the proportion of users with inactive accounts continues to rise.

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I was thinking along these lines also. Some sites have the option to deactivate your account without deleting it; the deactivation is easily reversed, though, as you just have to log back in and deselect it. Its main purpose is so that your profile is not able to be browsed or receive messages, but your content remains visible in forums.

@cthawley, thanks for your thoughts

I don’t think this is a big problem. Anyway, identifications are in a more extent governed by the whole community rather than by an author, and an author’s response is a thing less important than an observqation itself. Activa authors are not necessary respond as well, being busy or having nothing to comments.

That is the point! Whatever young iNaturalist (and the internet itself, from my perspective) is, it is hoped that the it will live at least much longer than its current users, even if majority of those still do not think much about it. That would make oservations ‘less mortal’ than their authors. This may sound not so habitual for social media but is a common place e.g. in scientific literature: we permanenty scrutinise observations made and published by the authors a century ago or more, and are happy with this (as well as their authors would be happy to know and surely hoped for). And iNaturalist is both a tool of communicating with nature and each other and accumulate valuable scientific information.

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